The Montague Twins: The Devil’s Music is the second installment of a young adult graphic novel series from writer Nathan Page and artist Drew Shannon. The book follows the titular Montague Twins, Pete and Al, their stepsister Charlie, and friend Rachel as they hang around their small New England town, solve mysteries, and learn about the world of magic. While The Devil’s Music feels less action packed and mystery-focused than the first Montague Twins book, The Witch’s Hand, its apt handling of depression’s impact on teens makes it stand out from the growing crowd of YA graphic novels.
The Devil’s Music is set during the anti rock and roll panic of 1969-- and it is funny to see groups of moms protesting “the devil’s music” when the protagonists’ rock band “the Bony Fingers” covers The Archies’ “Sugar, Sugar” at their gig. The characters and the setting have a lot of similarities with the characters and setting of Archie Comics, but the book itself has a bit more of an edge, adding danger into the world of small-town America. When Gideon Drake, a well-known musician with an unsettling (one might even say haunted) past shows up in Port Howl and shows romantic interest in Pete, Al decides to investigate why Gideon seems so off to him and what this famous musician is actually doing in their tiny town.
The look of The Devil’s Music is enticing. Shannon’s art style is charmingly loose and expressive. Each character has their own visual personality, and Shannon’s facial and body expressions excel in the quiet moments. The world of the book strikes a great balance between spooky and small town picturesque. The lettering feels organic and fitting within the artwork, and it guides the eye smoothly across the page, which can’t be said for all young adult comics coming out of major publishing houses.
While the book doesn’t achieve the same sleek classic mystery feel that The Witch’s Hand did, it does delve deeper into the emotional depths of its characters. The most compelling aspect of the book is one that was not present at all in the first installment—a look into Al’s inner anger and pain. There’s a lot of turmoil left over from what happened during The Witch’s Hand and what happened in the twins’ childhoods, and both the kids and the adults don’t really know how to handle it.
Depression is a complicated subject to render and can get even more complicated when considering the complex dynamics between teenagers and their guardians. But the use of new (and to some generations, scary) music as a way to illustrate the generational divide and the often-misguided attempts by guardians to connect with their teens serves the story well.
Music is famously difficult to portray in a static comic medium, but by portraying music as magic, The Devil’s Music sidesteps the issue by focusing on the impact of music instead of the music itself. Some of my strongest memories of being in high school are of staying up late in my bedroom listening to music. When I felt completely alone in the world, I had songs that put into words exactly what I was feeling in a way that the people in my life could never understand. Music in this book functions the same way, moving with unwieldy emotions, as the story showcases the difficulties and joys of friendship and the misunderstandings and conflicts that happen when people who care about each other just can’t quite connect. In the background, we see the larger societal issues of what happens when parents recognize that something is wrong and misdiagnose the actual problem, rushing to blame music or media and pretty much anything other than the actual trauma and mental health issues kids might be dealing with.
As readers of serial storytelling know, it can be difficult to judge a chapter of a series without having access to the overall picture. There are definitely sections of The Devil’s Music that are laying down tracks for future installments and feel less vital to the current one. Mysteries like an unknown family member showing up and the workings of powerful scholarly magic overseers might work really well when reading each installment side by side, but they make the book drag a bit when read on its own, and the sinister magic happenings going on in the background can feel underwhelming compared to the more compelling and immediate emotional turmoil that Al faces throughout the book.
Though on its own a little unbalanced, The Devil’s Music achieves something that most books dealing with depression don’t— open acceptance of the struggle. There’s no rush to fix Al by the end of the story. There’s no pressure or expectation that because Al is loved he’ll be okay or that he should be okay. This kind of reaction is as rare in life as it is in books, and having the words there, to be read and to be processed by kids who may feel like there is no one to go to or that there is no one to say the words to them, gives this book a special kind of weight.